Brains and bravery: little evidence of a relationship between brain size and flightiness in shorebirds

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Guay, Patrick-Jean, Weston, M. A, Symonds, M. R. E and Glover, H. K (2013) Brains and bravery: little evidence of a relationship between brain size and flightiness in shorebirds. Austral Ecology, 38 (5). pp. 516-522. ISSN 1442-9985 (print), 1442-9993 (online)


The ability of birds to perceive, assess and appropriately respond to the presence of relatively novel threats is important to their survival. We hypothesized that the cognitive capacity of birds will influence their ability for accurate response to novelty. We used brain volume as a surrogate for cognitive capacity and postulated that larger brained birds would moderate their responses when presented with a benign, frequently occurring stimulus, such as a person, because they would habituate more readily. We conducted phylogenetic generalized least square regression to investigate the relationship between brain volume and flight initiation distance (FID; the distance to which a bird can be approached before initiating escape behaviour), while controlling for confounding factors including body size (body mass and wing length) and migration status. We compared seven different models using combinations of these parameters using Akaike's information criterion to determine the best approximating model(s) explaining FID. The two best-supported models included only wing length and only body mass with Akaike weights of 0.396 and 0.311 respectively. No model including brain volume had an Akaike weight greater than 0.083 and brain volume was poorly correlated with FID in models after controlling for body mass. Thus, brain volume does not appear to strongly relate to bravery among these shorebirds.

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Item type Article
DOI 10.1111/j.1442-9993.2012.02441.x
Official URL
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 0602 Ecology
Historical > FOR Classification > 0608 Zoology
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > Institute for Sustainability and Innovation (ISI)
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Engineering and Science
Keywords ResPubID25535, phylogenetic generalised least squares regression, generalized, cognition, brain size, brain volume, flight initiation distance, shorebird, migration, shore-bird, stimulus, cognitive ability
Citations in Scopus 25 - View on Scopus
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